What is High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)?

High-intensity interval training, otherwise known as HIIT, has become an increasingly popular way to train, mostly because it’s efficient and heart healthy.

With more and more demands on time, many people think they can’t fit exercise into their schedules. If you’re one of these people, HIIT may be the right workout for you.

HIIT works you in short bursts of intense exercise followed by a recovery period or active recovery period. Depending on the time you have and your fitness level, you can do alternating intervals between ten to 30 minutes and get maximum benefits.

The rigorous part of intervals typically last between 20 to 90 seconds, during which your heart rate shoots up and then slows down or stops for a quick recovery period.

“HIIT workouts are designed to give all the benefits of traditional strength training. As you cycle through your exercises, the heart rate will spike up and down. That interval of heart rate allows your body to build lean body mass,” said Taz Shirota, Master Trainer at Crunch Fitness in Embarcadero, California.

HIIT exercises include sit-ups, jump squats, push-ups, burpees, and sprints. But you can make just about anything a HIIT workout, including strength exercises, walking, swimming, cycling, or running, by doing them in alternating intervals that have you going all out followed by a rest period.

For example, you could do a combination of jump squats, push-ups and burpees. You would do each exercise for one minute and repeat the circuit three times with 20 seconds of rest in between each sequence. As you build up your fitness level, add another exercise to the mix. The idea is to keep progressing.

If you don’t want to figure it out on your own, lots of gyms and fitness spots are offering HIIT classes.

Three Major Benefits of HIIT Training

Efficiency: If you are trying to lose weight, you can burn the same number of calories in a shorter HIIT workout as you might in a longer steady-state workout, according to a study published in the Journal of Strength Conditioning Research. These workouts give you more bang for your buck and will have long-lasting benefits.

Cardio Health: In a meta-analysis published by the British Journal of Sports Medicine, researchers found that higher intensity exercise improved oxygen consumption “in patients with lifestyle-induced chronic diseases.” The study also found that people enjoyed doing HIIT more than moderate exercise and experienced an improved quality of life. Overall, researchers concluded that “HIIT significantly increases cardiorespiratory fitness by almost double that of moderate-intensity continuous training in patients with lifestyle-induced chronic diseases.”

Improved Arterial Stiffness: As we age, our arteries get stiffer and high blood pressure can only make it worse. There is growing evidence that HIIT helps reduce arterial stiffness better than continuous moderate-intensity exercise. In one study, patients with hypertension reduced arterial stiffness after 16 weeks of HIIT compared to those who followed continuous moderate training programs.

Bottom Line HIIT is well-known to have major health benefits compared to steady-state exercise. To get stronger and avoid injury, a strength training routine should be incorporated, which will help to protect joints and enhance the gains from HIIT. Be mindful of how your body responds to the activity and listen to your body. While you should be physically active almost every day, if not every day, you may want to limit HIIT workouts to one to three times per week, giving your body time to recover in between sessions.

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